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Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Friedland

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Battle of Friedland: Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Friedland was fought June 14, 1807, during the War of the Fourth Coalition (1806-1807).

Armies & Commanders

French

  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • 71,000 men

    Russians

  • •General Levin August, Count von Bennigsen
  • 76,000 men

  • Battle of Friedland: Background:

    With the beginning of the War of the Fourth Coalition in 1806, Napoleon advanced against Prussia and won stunning victories at Jena and Auerstadt. Having brought Prussia to heel, the French pushed into Poland with the goal inflicting a similar defeat on the Russians. Following a series of minor actions, Napoleon elected to enter winter quarters to give his men a chance to recover from the campaigning season. Opposing the French were Russian forces led by General Count von Bennigsen. Seeing an opportunity to strike at the French, he began moving against the isolated corps of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte.

    Sensing a chance to cripple the Russians, Napoleon ordered Bernadotte to fall back while he moved with the main army to cut off the Russians. Slowly drawing Bennigsen into his trap, Napoleon was foiled when a copy of his plan was captured by the Russians. Pursuing Bennigsen, the French army became spread over the countryside. On February 7, the Russians turned to make a stand near Eylau. In the resulting Battle of Eylau, the French were checked by Bennigsen on February 7-8, 1807. Departing the field, the Russians retreated north and both sides moved into winter quarters.

    Moving to Friedland:

    Renewing the campaign that spring, Napoleon moved against the Russian position at Heilsberg. Having taken a strong defensive stance, Bennigsen repelled several French assaults on June 10, inflicting over 10,000 casualties. Though his lines had held, Bennigsen elected to fall back again, this time towards Friedland. On June 13, Russian cavalry, under General Dmitry Golitsyn, cleared the area around Friedland of French outposts. This done, Bennigsen crossed the Alle River and occupied the town. Situated on the west bank of the Alle, Friedland occupied a finger of land between the river and a mill stream (Map).

    The Battle of Friedland Begins:

    Pursuing the Russians, Napoleon's army advanced over several routes in multiple columns. The first to arrive in the vicinity of Friedland was that Marshal Jean Lannes. Encountering Russian troops west of Friedland a few hours after midnight on June 14, the French deployed and fighting began in the Sortlack Wood and in front of the village of Posthenen. As the engagement grew in scope, both sides began racing to extend their lines north to Heinrichsdorf. This contest was won by the French when cavalry led by the Marquis de Grouchy occupied the village.

    Pushing men over the river, Bennigsen's forces had swollen to around 50,000 by 6:00 AM. While his troops were exerting pressure on Lannes, he deployed his men from the Heinrichsdorf-Friedland Road south to the upper bends of the Alle. Additional troops pushed north as far as Schwonau, while reserve cavalry moved into position to support the growing battle in the Sortlack Wood. As the morning progressed, Lannes struggled to hold his position. He was soon aided by the arrival of Marshal Edouard Mortier's VIII Corps which approached Heinrichsdorf and swept the Russians out of Schwonau (Map).

    By midday, Napoleon had arrived on the field with reinforcements. Ordering Marshal Michel Ney's VI Corps to assume a position south of Lannes, these troops formed between Posthenen and Sortlack Wood. While Mortier and Grouchy formed the French left, Marshal Claude Victor-Perrin's I Corps and the Imperial Guard moved into a reserve position west of Posthenen. Covering his movements with artillery, Napoleon finished forming his troops around 5:00 PM. Assessing the confined terrain around Friedland due to the river and Posthenen mill stream, he decided to strike at the Russian left.

    The Main Attack:

    Moving behind a massive artillery barrage, Ney's men advanced on the Sortlack Wood. Quickly overcoming the Russian opposition, they forced the enemy back. On the far left, General Jean Gabriel Marchand succeeded in driving the Russians into the Alle near Sortlack. In an attempt to retrieve the situation, Russian cavalry mounted a determined attack on Marchand's left. Surging forward, the Marquis de Latour-Maubourg's dragoon division met and repulsed this attack. Pushing forward, Ney's men succeeded in penning the Russians into the bends of the Alle before being halted.

    Though the sun was setting, Napoleon sought to achieve a decisive victory and was unwilling to let the Russians escape. Ordering forward General Pierre Dupont's division from the reserve, he sent it against the mass of Russian troops. It was aided by the French cavalry which pushed back its Russian counterparts. As the battle re-ignited, General Alexandre-Antoine de Sénarmont deployed his artillery at close range and delivered a stunning barrage of case-shot. Tearing through the Russian lines, fire from Sénarmont's guns shattered the enemy position causing them to fall back and flee through the streets of Friedland.

    With Ney's men in pursuit, the fighting at the southern end of the field became a rout. As the assault against the Russian left had moved forward, Lannes and Mortier had endeavored to pin the Russian center and right in place. Spotting smoke rising from a burning Friedland, they both advanced against the enemy. As this attack moved forward, Dupont shifted his attack north, forded the mill stream, and assaulted the flank of the Russian center. Though the Russians offered fierce resistance, they were ultimately compelled to retreat. While the Russian right was able to escape via the Allenburg Road, the remainder struggled back across the Alle with many drowning in the river.

    Aftermath of Friedland

    In the fighting at Friedland, the Russians suffered around 30,000 casualties while the French incurred around 10,000. With his primary army in shambles, Tsar Alexander I began suing for peace less than a week after the battle. This effectively ended the War of the Fourth Coalition as Alexander and Napoleon concluded the Treaty of Tilsit on July 7. This agreement ended hostilities and began an alliance between France and Russia. While France agreed to aid Russia against the Ottoman Empire, the latter joined the Continental System against Great Britain. A second Treaty of Tilsit was signed on July 9 between France and Prussia. Eager to weaken and humiliate the Prussians, Napoleon stripped them of half their territory.

    Selected Sources

  • Battle of Friedland: French Order of Battle
  • Napoleon Guide: Battle of Friedland
  • Harvey, Robert. (2006) War of Wars: The Epic Struggle Between Britain and France, 1789-1815. New York: Carroll & Graf.

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